8 things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer
Things we can all do to reduce our chances of getting cancer
It’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian women, and with more than 20,000 people diagnosed with the disease last year alone, chances are you know someone with breast cancer.
Early detection is key to increasing your chances of beating this form of cancer, so it’s never been more important to keep on top of regular breast cancer checks and seek professional advice if you notice any changes.
A mammogram (an x-ray of your breasts completed by a radiographer) is the recommended screening tool for detecting breast cancer early. The government’s program, BreastScreen Australia, invites women aged 50 to 74 to undergo a free mammogram every two years.
Women aged 40 to 49 and those over 74 years can also be screened for free, but they’re not sent invitation letters. Women aged over 50 who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer are encouraged to get a mammogram every six months.
As well as regular mammograms, you should also get familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts and do regular checks; if you find any changes, report back to your GP.
Although your chances of developing cancer are low when you’re young, keep in mind that 7% of women diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide are under 40.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may begin conducting breast examinations in your teenage years. Detecting cancer early can allow the treatment to begin sooner and increase your chances of surviving.
Conducting regular breast self-exams at home will allow you to spot any changes and increase your chances of discovering the disease as early as possible. Follow these four steps when doing a check:
If you notice any changes, arrange to see your doctor as soon as possible.
If you feel a lump, don’t panic. Many women have non-cancerous lumps in their breasts caused by normal hormonal changes.
But, to be on the safe side make an appointment with your doctor, especially if the changes in your breast last more than one menstrual cycle or if the lump is accompanied by pain, swelling, redness or fluid discharge.
There is no definite way to prevent breast cancer, but you can make some lifestyle choices to reduce your risk. Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, exercising, limiting your alcohol intake and breastfeeding can help reduce your breast cancer risk.
If you have a family history of breast cancer, you could chat to your doctor about measures to reduce your risk, such as genetic testing, taking certain medicines and a preventative (prophylactic) mastectomy.
With two kids under three at the time, Sarah Baxter’s sudden breast cancer diagnosis came with a barrage of life-changing decisions that affected her whole family.
Sarah was able to take on the challenge of a breast cancer diagnosis with the support of her McGrath Foundation Breast Care Nurse, Rikki.
Treatment for Sarah’s type of cancer would normally involve a lumpectomy, where only a portion of the breast is removed. But due to family history – both her mum and aunt had breast cancer twice – Sarah decided to get a double mastectomy.
“I’d only just stopped breastfeeding and was still emotionally attached to my breasts. I had a horrendous time making that decision. I was a mess.”
Sarah says the support she received from Rikki was invaluable. Rikki was there for her from her very first appointment with the breast surgeon.
“Rikki knew all the medical and clinical implications and could explain it in a way that made sense. She could answer all my questions.”
Her mastectomy turned out to be the right choice of treatment. It revealed more aggressive cancer cells, which may not have been found if Sarah had chosen the lumpectomy option.
“I would have been so lost and confused without Rikki. She gave me confidence in my decisions. I’m so incredibly grateful she was there to support me.”
For more information about mammograms or to book an appointment, visit BreastScreen Australia or call 13 20 50.
We can help. Our Find a Provider service allows you to search for health professionals in your local area and see contact information. The practitioners that nib members see more frequently will also display patient reviews.
If you’re heading to your GP for a check-up, it could be a good opportunity to find out what other examinations you might be due for.